Au naturel

Brockport farm fulfills a life passion



Shane Camman

Katie DeTar

Sometimes life callings come in unexpected ways. For one local man, the call to a new way of living came in the form of a chicken.

Shane Camman and his high-school-sweetheart-turned-wife, Heather, had what appeared to be the picture-perfect life. They had four beautiful children, Shane had advanced quickly in the medical sales industry, and they were earning a substantial household income. But as Shane’s career obligations became overwhelming, he began to seek another path.

“I missed my daughter’s kindergarten graduation; missed my son’s first soccer game. I was travelling all the time,” says Shane, thirty-seven. “I consciously made a decision that life is not about money.”

A series of life transitions led the Camman family to farming and into a new and wildly fulfilling life. 

It all started about eight years ago, when the Cammans moved back to the Rochester area from Indianapolis to be closer to family and purchased Heather’s family home and land in Brockport. Unbeknownst to Shane, the farmland adjacent to the home (now owned by the couple) had been rented to area farmers for years for soy, corn, and other commercial crops.

Around that same time, the Camman family began investigating their food sources, reading food labels and agriculture books, and transitioning to an organic-based diet. What they learned—and the healthy changes they made—had some surprising and unexpected effects. Shane’s chronic stomach ailments cleared, and he no longer required a medication that he’d previously depended on to get through the day. Both Heather and Shane found the increased energy they were seeking, and the entire family enjoyed new and healthy foods. 

It was a natural fit, then, that in 2011 the Cammans started a hobby farm right in their own Brockport backyard, on the same land used by farmers for generations. A dozen hens, a vegetable garden, and a few goats kick-started what would become Shane’s new life passion of farming.

“We were having a ball, raising our chickens, milking our goats every day,” he says. “I was fascinated. I couldn’t get enough. I wanted to talk about the farm all day.”

But farm life began to conflict with work life, and Camman realized he needed to make a decision: buckle down and pursue the next promotion or sacrifice his lucrative sales career to follow his passion. Two years after starting that first vegetable garden, he took a leap of faith, left his high-pressure job, and decided to launch a full-time poultry farming business. 

In the few years since, Camman has worked to take the family land that had been commercial cropland and turn it into pasture for free-range chickens and turkeys. Camman Acres sits perched on a fertile ridge—what was once the shore of Lake Ontario. His goal is to harness that sandy, rich soil of the Great Lakes watershed for a new wave of organic farms with a sustainable approach to agriculture.

Camman considers himself part of a growing movement of people who believe that many of our current environmental, health, and economic problems can be solved by a more sustainable, locally based food system. He is frustrated with what he describes as America’s big business food system: subsidies favor unhealthy foods, and consumers who have come to expect foods to be cheap and fast to prepare. According to the USDA’s economic research service, Americans spend less money on food than people in any other nation, on average about six percent of their income. Much of the American diet is composed of nutritionally void packaged corn and soy-based food products and “factory-farmed” meat and dairy. 

“Everyone has something they are willing to pay a premium for; it’s just not [always] food,” he says. “I want to arm people with the knowledge to at least make a choice. I’ll preach the good word to anyone who wants to listen.”

Camman’s become what you might call a food evangelist, sharing information about organic practices, the health benefits of pasture-raised meats, and the joy of eating local foods to friends and farm market customers.

 “You can’t change a whole food system, but you can change how people spend their money and how you cast a vote with your dollar,” he says.

His passion for local agriculture appeals to the thousands of people who make their way to area farmers’ markets each week in search of local products and alternative food choices. These are the people he loves meeting as he sells his products around the region. 

Camman feels there are more people out there who—like him—are ready to make a dramatic life change and get back to working on the land. He also acknowledges that not everyone is in the position to finance a farm business. He’s been active working with legislators and community groups to brainstorm ways to make small farming more attractive and accessible to other entrepreneurs.

Farm life has certainly come with challenges, and the learning curve has been steep for the Cammans. But Shane’s former life gave him the confidence and stamina to take it all in stride. The hard work has not diminished his electric smile and contagiously positive attitude. The farm is on track to turn a profit this year, and he’s been able to hire some part-time help.

And while success can mean many different things, these days success for the Camman family means sharing products from their land with the public, educating their customers and friends, and enjoying the simple things in life, down on the farm. 

 

Katie DeTar is the host and producer of the television travel series Fringe Benefits, airing now on public television stations. katiedetar.com

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